SAO TOME and PRINCIPE: The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, along with his UK and Australian counterparts, had launched the Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) at the World Leaders Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021.
What is IRIS ?
IRIS is the first major initiative by India under the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). It is a joint program between CDRI member countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
The CDRI, comprising countries, UN agencies, multilateral development banks, and other stakeholders, was launched by India at the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019 in New York.
The coalition currently has 28 member countries, including the United States, Germany, Fiji, Canada, Mauritius, the Maldives, and the Dominican Republic.
Speaking at the launch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “The last few decades have proved that no one is free from the rage of climate change. Whether they are developed countries or rich in natural resources, this is a great threat to everyone. The Small Island Developing States face the greatest threat from climate change”.
Vulnerabilities of SIDS
Geography is one of many reasons why small island states across the world face unique barriers in accessing critical life-saving knowledge. Such limitations in access are often the difference between life and death and play a decisive role in the speed of recovery following a natural calamity or health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a UN Global Assessment Report (2017), SIDS countries, which are a group of 58 low-lying island nations, are severely threatened by climate change and suffer the highest losses due to natural disasters.
The objectives of IRIS
This initiative, which was born out of a sense of collective global responsibility, aims to provide technical support on issues posed by infrastructure systems, promote disaster and climate resilience of infrastructure assets in SIDS, and share the latest knowledge targeted to specific infrastructure sectors.
IRIS will work with SIDS to identify opportunities for partnerships and technical collaborations to strengthen infrastructure systems for resilient development in these countries.
While the IRIS initiative will not build physical infrastructure, it will help embed climate resilience into existing and future infrastructure development plans for SIDS. It would empower SIDS to mobilize technology, finance, and information to better cope with climate change and better withstand climate shocks.
Execution of IRIS
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been mandated to develop a special data window for small island states and provide timely information on cyclones, seismic activity, monitoring coral reefs, weather intelligence, monitoring the coastlines, etc.
India’s coastline has been vulnerable to natural disasters. Over the years, ISRO has provided long-term data on coastal erosion as well as an accretion to Indian policymakers.
Through IRIS, India wants to share its acquired capability and expertise in these areas.
Funding the IRIS
While Britain has announced an initial US$ 18.4 million to the fund, India, and Australia have committed US$10 million each. Expected to be rolled out in the first half of 2022, the program has budgeted US$50 million as of now for its activities until 2030. Japan is expected to join.
How can Sao Tome and Principe (STP) benefit?
Due to its geography and the fragility of its eco-systems, STP is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. Like other SIDS, Sao Tome is faced with the challenges of natural disasters, climate change, and rising sea levels. Heavy cyclones and seasonal rains cause serious flooding, leading to damages.
Because of inadequate maritime surveillance infrastructure, Sao Tome has not been able to effectively monitor its exclusive economic zone and coastlines. But it also lacks advanced intelligence and early warning systems for tsunamis, volcanic activity, and typhoons.
The oceans around São Tomé and Príncipe are marine biodiversity hotspots due to their high levels of species endemism. However, overfishing and destructive fishing practices by illegal trawlers are posing an increasing threat and contributing to the rapid decline of fish stocks and the degradation of marine ecosystems. This poses a serious threat to local fishing communities that rely on marine resources for their livelihoods.
STP can benefit from the enhanced maritime surveillance capabilities provided by the IRIS initiative. Data provided by IRIS can be utilized to promote sustainable use of marine resources through the establishment of co-managed marine protected areas.
Biodiversity surveys and 3D mappings may further aid STP in better conservation of its prized rainforests and endemic flora and bird species.